Embrace of the Serpent Movie Review
Black and white. Subtitles. Such a combo means that most Americans will never opt to enjoy the alluring, Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, a movie so good my fiance branded it “the most boring and pointless movie ever.”
She only said that because she started watching the Colombian drama halfway through, was on Pinterest for the other half and wanted me to pay attention to her.
Had she actually paid attention, she probably would have said… the exact same thing… but Embrace of the Serpent is a beautiful and at times mesmerizing tale that works on many levels. Drawn with not so obscure traces of Heart of Darkness (or, for you non-literary folk, Apocalypse Now), the movie successfully takes you deep into the heart of the Amazon and explores themes ranging from the greed of man to the loss of innocence.
Both Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolivar deliver fine performances as the young and old Karamakate, a shaman and last of his people who has defied modernization and encroaching white culture. Though they play the same character, their portrayals are starkly different, one fierce and angry and passionately resistant, the other somber and resigned to eventuality.
Jan Bijvoet is also terrific as the white scientist who Karamakate rescues from certain death, a man dedicated to immersing himself in the local cultures and customs yet unable to truly let go of his heritage. A tense situation involving a stolen compass stands out as one of the movie’s most interesting scenes.
The first half of Embrace of the Serpent is noticeably better than the second, with the relationship between young Karamakate, the scientist and his friend Manduca being the focal point. The dynamics between the three are intensely satisfying. When the movie leaps forward 40 years and introduces another white scientist, played by Brionne Davis, Serpent still works, though the exchanges between old Karamakate and this new individual feel less organic, their relationship necessary to carry the film forward but not nearly as fascinating.
Still, Embrace of the Serpent is a beautiful, exotic and freshly original film that deserves to be seen. Even if your fiance will hate it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.